Notes from Sanctuary
After all the breathing and moving work we have done over the past few weeks, we finally engaged in contemplative prayer this week. This is like learning an instrument: the last few weeks were like learning scales or learning how to handle the instrument. Now, we can make music. A participant, in week one asked, ‘what is the difference between this and mindfulness?’
In weeks 1 and 2 we were learning mindfulness techniques to assist us in this work. In my experience, without some skill in clearing my mind I cannot engage in this kind of prayer. With my mind clear and open, I can engage in one of the more transformative kinds of prayer I practise, which is contemplation of the gospels. My imagination is freed from the constraints of day to day life and becomes able to apply itself – not to gazing at myself, but at Christ.
This kind of activity has been said to shift us from ‘belief in God’ to ‘knowledge of God.’ ‘To know Jesus, therefore, is to know God’ (John 14:9).
By contemplating the Gospels, we are deeply interacting with the life of Jesus and we can seek to form an experiential relationship with Him. I have come to understand the unique way in which this practise allows me to open deeper and deeper parts of myself to God. Parts that had been intimidated, fearful, arrogant, in denial, or under some sort of falsehood.
To use some modern terms, I make use of neuroplasticity techniques to open a defended, hardened heart and mind.
I pray in this way to give God transformational access to me, not for me to coerce God into doing what I think is best. Praying in this way slowly brings our self into orientation with God’s self. This allows us to be attuned to and join in God’s healing, reconciling and transforming work in the world making our lives more whole and ourselves more conscious of our existence in Christ. 
Jesus bridges heaven and earth. Gospel meditation allows us to relate to Jesus’ humanity and then - we are brought in close to regard and experience Jesus’ divinity.
The term Immanuel is God with us. We are invited throughout the Gospels to experience this – to befriend this God with us. Jesus Christ.
So we contemplated the Gospels in the manner in which David Benner, a psychologist and spiritual director lays out simply and beautifully in The Gift of Being Yourself. This practise provides incredibly rich opportunities for us to build this kind of experiential relationship.
First we began with 10 minutes of centering and calming action that can be found here.
Then participants mindfully moved to the choir room to select their Scripture.
Participants chose from Matthew 15:21-28 The Faith of a Canaanite Woman, Mark 10:17-22 The Rich Young Man, Luke 22:39-46 Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives, Luke 10:38-42 Martha and Mary, Matthew 16:21-23 Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection, John 18:33-38 My Kingdom is not of this world, and Matthew 19:13-15 Let the children come to me.
In each selection, the reading was printed out in three versions: English Standard Version, The Message and the King James Version.
We began by holding the moment open to the Spirit of God. We asked to be able to take the words of Scripture and understand them as God’s Word to us. We asked for 'the gift of a few moments of Spirit-guided imaginative encounter with Jesus.' Then, participants slowly read the Scripture, silently.
Participants absorbed the Scripture with their imaginative minds. They contemplated the entire story as it unfolded before their mind's eye. They watched people approach and interact with Jesus. They observed at first, but were then pulled right into the story. The raw truth of our condition met the divine Truth of Jesus' words and actions.
Participants were advised not to analyze or scrutinize the lesson, rather, to just be present to Jesus and to tend to their own visceral responses.
If there was a need to refocus, participants were encouraged to engage some of the mindfulness techniques learned, or open eyes and re-read the text.
I worked with Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives
And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-46 ESV)
What I connected with was fear. This insight came at the very end of the 15 minute practise. I felt it because it didn't seem like the angel was enough. The angel was there comforting, but there was no comfort. Jesus was in agony. The idea that Jesus felt fear shocked me. The idea that Jesus struggled to turn his will over to God in this way was powerful for me. I felt that raw solidarity in suffering that Jesus offers me. I felt understood and accepted in the areas of my life that I try to keep closed down or hidden—from myself, others and God. I felt relief from the bondage of survival drive to get what I think is best for me. This experience reminds me that we come to know that God has seen, known, and taken to Godself in Jesus—everything that we are. God knows that our lives can be at times, riddled with fear, that chaos and menace are the texture of our lives—yet the compassion of God sword cuts through that, like a sword (Eph 6:17).
This image is the stunning Genesis window in our Chapel. When I come into St. Mary's in the morning, the light is pouring and streaming in through this window, illuminating the Chapel.
 Inspired by David G Benner, The Gift Of Being Yourself (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 101.
 David G Benner, The Gift Of Being Yourself (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 37-40.
 David G Benner, The Gift Of Being Yourself (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 37.